It is human nature. We hear ‘tumor’ and we think ‘cancer’. Who wouldn’t? With the frightening statistics that one out of every four people will die of cancer, we are a cancer crazy society, all terrified that we, or someone we love, will be the unlucky ‘one’.
So slow down and take a deep breath, your veterinarian said your dog has a tumor, he did not say he has cancer. Dogs are prone to many types of benign tumors - tumor is just another name for a lump, a bump, a mass or a scabby thing that the vet cannot name without further diagnosis. In fact, the Colorado State University cancer site states “Technically, a tumor is just a swelling which may or may not be a cancer. Cancer is a disease of uncontrolled cell growth which can be benign (not invasive and does not spread) or malignant (usually invasive into surrounding tissue and capable of spreading to other areas of the body). "
So do not panic and ask your vet what is the best course of treatment from this point.
Most tumors in dogs are external – the lumps, bumps and scabs. There are many types of benign skin tumors such as histiocytomas, lipomas, cysts, sebaceous adenomas, etc. They go on and on. External lumps can also be mammary tumors – both benign and malignant as well as testicular cancer. Internal tumors are usually malignant forms of cancer that, depending on the type and location, can respond well to surgery and chemotherapy treatment.
There are several ways to diagnosis and treat skin tumors. Many vets will want to do a fine needle aspirate of the lump. This involves using syringe to suck some of the contents out of the lump so that either your vet or a veterinary pathologist can make an accurate diagnosis. This is a non-invasive procedure and is no worse then his yearly vaccines. Often the vet can tell himself what is in the lump as the most common lumps are merely a cyst or a lipoma, a benign fatty tumor common in older dogs. If it is something more serious, he will send the contents off for histology or diagnosis from the veterinary pathologist.
From this point, you and your vet can decide whether the tumor must be removed. If the lump is small but may grow, have your vet remove it. For lumps under 6mm across, no general anesthetic is necessary since it can be done under sedation and local ‘freezing’. The wear and tear on your pet is much less and the small incision will not be noticeable when it heals.
For larger or growing lumps, removal depends on what the overall health of your dog and whether the tumor inhibits their movement or negatively affects their life in any way. Lumps on faces, around the back of the neck or where a collar may sit, in armpits or legpits, around the anus or on the tail should be removed. These can cause discomfort in time and better to be removed while it is a manageable surgery.
Most vets will want to surgically remove mammary and testicular tumors even if they believe them to be benign. If the tumors are found while they are still small, the surgery is usually simple and recovery is uneventful. In the case of a testicular tumor especially, it is just a matter of neutering the dog. In both cases, because neither the tumor nor surgery crosses into the abdominal or chest cavity, the risk of post-surgical complications is minimal.
Abdominal tumors or tumors within the chest cavity are altogether different. Talking openly with your vet about what is the best course of action for your beloved pet is critical and considering the dog’s age and post-surgery quality of life is mandatory.
A common question is when should an owner worry about a lump? Here are a few rules when it comes to lumps, bumps and tumors:
- Lumps on toes, feet, ears and noses must seen by your vet as soon as possible. There are invasive forms of cancer that hit these spots but also important is if it is a lump that must be removed, the smaller the lump is the better. The skin on these areas is limited and they are difficult areas to heal without complications.
- External or skin tumors that grow quickly should be seen to quickly as quick growth is a sign of something aggressive
- If a tumor in the skin cannot be wiggled around and if it feels like it is attached to anything underneath, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible
- Lumps or bumps that are in an active area such as around the lips, eyes, armpits, around the anus or on the tail should be removed when they are still small even if they are benign to keep your dog as comfortable as possible
If ever you are worried about a lump or anything related to the health and well-being of your pet, make an appointment with your vet. In vet medicine, it is always better to catch problems when they are small then waiting until there is a crisis. And if he says your dog has a tumor, stay calm and ask him for more details.